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03/10/2005

Priest “Laundering?”

All Orthodox faithful should take pause over a Sunday, February 20th front-page article in the Chicago Tribune.  It is about a priest, Fr. Iakovos Giosakis, who came from Greece and was apparently embezzling money from his parish in Chicago during his two-year stay from 1999 to 2001.  This matter certainly suggests that parish councils should require a “background-check”, and not just accept a new priest from their bishop – or, as in this case, from whatever “authority” makes the assignment.

      It’s as though this man’s sponsors, whoever they really were, enabled him to come here to “milk those Americans” for as much as he could, and then skip town – with the aid of the Greek Consulate, to boot. (This man is currently in jail in Greece and the charges against him there appear to be even more serious than what he may have been charged with here.)

There are a number of troubling questions raised by this sad story, aside from wondering why we all weren’t aware of the Chicago events earlier.

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First, how did he get an OK to come here from Greece?  Which bishop there gave him permission to come here and under what circumstances?  He apparently already had a questionable record in Greece, and the news article says his visa did not permit him to work for a salary here.  Did the Church of Greece send him here with a recommendation, like some Catholic bishops have done with priests in trouble who were sent to another country?  Was he “hiding-out” here for a while?
 

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It appears that the sponsoring jurisdiction here was the “Stavropegial Monasteries and Churches”, based in Astoria, N.Y., with their main unit being the Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou, mentioned in the article.  The 2002 GOA Yearbook lists this group under “Other Jurisdictions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”  They have 12 “dependencies” listed,  mostly churches, including SS. Athanasios and John Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago where Fr. Giosakis was the priest.

         It may be recalled that this group was formerly “Old Calender”, and was brought under the EP with some fanfare when Archbishop Spyridon was here.  This was a feather in the cap of the Archbishop and as the “Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne in the Western Hemisphere”, he installed Metropolitan Paisios as Abbot of the monastery.  The group had been in the U.S., with their base in Astoria, for many years. As was reported in the Voithia website at the time, this was also the group whose newsletter, “The Voice of Orthodoxy”, used strong anti-Semitic language, and some priests in the New York area reportedly objected to the group joining the EP.

After the  Chicago scandal broke, the monastery tried to distance itself from Giosakis.  The Tribune article tells us that they said: “When he was in Chicago, he was also on loan to us” and that “he was not a priest of the monastery.”  Well, what was he, and who loaned him?

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Then, how was it that Archbishop Athenagoras of Central America was involved?  He is said to have helped Giosakis obtain his position in Chicago, accepted a $3000 donation from him and consulted with the police about his troubles.  Why would the archbishop from Central America be involved? Was Giosakis also “loaned” to him for supervision? If so, who authorized that?  The article also says that Patriarch Bartholomew criticized the Archbishop for his role in this case, (But, apparently he didn’t criticize the autocephalous Church of Greece.)
 

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In a recent “feel good” interview in The National Herald, Metropolitan Paisios, head of the Astoria group, was asked about the past seven years since they “joined the Church”. He said “These have been blessed years, filled with heavenly blessings…We have been blessed by the Lord to belong to the Mother Church.”  He was not asked about the Giosakis matter. He was asked about his relations with the GOA and with Archbishop Demetrios and said they “…couldn’t be characterized as anything but benevolent.”  (All that was missing in the interview was the violins.)  One would think that if the archbishop is the Exarch, then the Metropolitan would have cleared the U.S. assignment of Giosakis with the GOA. Did he?
 

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In some of my previous articles I have raised questions about the movements of priests from one jurisdiction to another. In such situations, names are sometime changed and, in any case, the new community is not told of priest’s background.  This case is an example of such movement, on an international level.  In my view, we should be questioning such “laundering” of a priest and looking at whether this is happening in other cases.   We should be expecting explanations and accountability from:  The Church of Greece, Metropolitan Paisios,  Archbishop Athenagoras, Archbishop Demetrios and from the Patriarch. If we claim to be Pan-Orthodox, we have an obligation to be as interested in the Astoria monastery, in this case, as we are in the main jurisdictions.

Paul Cromidas
Dallas, Texas

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